Craig Lucas: Master of Contemporary Drama
From playing one of the Demon Barber’s first victims in the original Broadway production of Sweeney Todd to becoming an acclaimed American dramatist, Craig Lucas has charted a remarkable path in the theatre. Consistently evolving, Lucas has created definitive works in the contemporary canon of American theatre and continues to explore storytelling through screenwriting and directing for both stage and screen.
Lucas moved to New York City after growing up in the Main Line area of Philadelphia and graduating from Boston University in 1973, to pursue a career as a musical theatre actor. He appeared in four Broadway productions before transitioning to writing with the support of his mentors, poet Anne Sexton and musical theatre composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim.
Lucas’ first play, Missing Persons, caught the attention of director Norman René who agreed to produce it. Before mounting that production, the pair collaborated to create Marry Me A Little, a revue of Sondheim songs that had been cut from the shows for which they were written. A partnership developed between the two that spanned over a decade and a half. René directed major productions and film versions of Lucas’ subsequent works until René’s death in 1996.
Following Marry Me A Little and Missing Persons, Lucas wrote Reckless (1983), Blue Window (1984), and Three Postcards with composer/lyricist Craig Carnelia (1987).
Lucas began writing Prelude to a Kiss in 1987. Commissioned by South Coast Repertory, who had already produced three of Lucas’ plays, Prelude received its world premiere in January 1988. The play was subsequently produced at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Circle Repertory Company with Mary-Louise Parker and Alec Baldwin before opening on Broadway with Parker and Timothy Hutton at the Helen Hayes Theatre on May 1, 1990.
Dedicated to his parents, Lucas told them that Prelude was, “Sweet and romantic. My tribute to marriage.” The play takes its name from the song by Duke Ellington, Irving Gordon, and Irving Mills. Lucas has spoken about the influence of music on his work in creating the world of a play and setting a story in motion. He says of Prelude in particular:
When I began to work on the play, I was listening to a lot of Duke Ellington, and I thought that song had extra reverberations for my story — more than just the ones in connection with the big kiss in Act One; there are a lot of kisses in the play, and there’s an ultimate, metaphoric one, if you go in for that sort of thing.
A commercial and critical success, the Broadway production ran for a total of 440 performances and won awards for the script, production, Norman René’s direction, and Parker’s performance. It was also nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play, several Drama Desk Awards, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Prelude was revived on Broadway in 2007.
Not afraid to address personal questions and political conflicts in his writing, Lucas’ success has continued post-Prelude, with works including God’s Heart (1997), The Dying Gaul (1998), Small Tragedy (2004), and the book of The Light in the Piazza (2005, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel). He has garnered acclaim for his screenplays Longtime Companion and The Secret Lives of Dentists and for his film adaptations of his stage plays. He has also directed his works and others’ for the stage and screen and is currently the associate artistic director at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre. A prolific writer and energetic leader of the American theatre, Lucas has come a long way from Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street.
— Anne G. Morgan